Monday, September 5, 2011

Who's Really Who?

I think the Prodigal Son has had a bad press.
Here's why.
I thought "prodigal" meant one who, black-sheepedly, wandered off the straight and narrow, did evil stuff, then came back.
It turns out I was wrong.

Prodigal means lavish, wasteful, extravagant . . .
Not in an evil way necessarily.
I know people who suddenly became wealthy. Some of them could definitely be called prodigal. They threw their money around like there was no tomorrow. Became ridiculously generous to all and sundry.
"The drink are on me" and "Let me buy that for you"  . . . .
In extreme cases, even cars and houses were given as gifts.
Prodigal indeed.
But not bad, just maybe foolish.

When I saw that, I wondered why the guy in the bible story was so universally thought of as a bad lot.
You know what I found?

It was his jealous older brother, who hadn't seen him in like, forever, who assumed that his bru was down and out because of a lifestyle that included harlots.
And obviously, all the bad stuff that went along with that.
And a lot of us have bought his story.
For 2000 years.
Kinda scary isn't it?

Another interesting thing about these two:
They were both sons of a devoted father.
But both fell into a 'servant mindset' towards him
The younger because he felt he'd messed up so badly that all he could expect from his father was to be his servant.
(Do backsliders feel this way when they return?)

The older (maybe the sadder of the two cases) had stayed with his father; always within reach of his father's love for him, with all thefather's resources freely available to him.
But he was so busy trying to serve him - to be the good servant, the hardworking servant, the dependable one, that he never realised that all his father wanted was to have him close, loved and loving.
And in having the mindset of a servant, he robbed himself of experiencing sonship.
(Do dutiful believers fall into this trap?)

All the pain he felt was the product of his own imaginations and feelings.
He was badly graunched up but it only showed when the younger son showed up and received undeserved royal treatment from the father.
Jealousy; resentment; anger; sorrow; rejection . . .
All there
All needless.
Causing huge pain to the bewildered father. 
It's enough to break you heart, to read what the father says to that son. # Luke 15:28-31

Its a perfect picture of grace, misunderstanding, legalism, duty, love, religiosity, joy, reconciliation and freedom.

Its also a mirror of us today, if we care to take a peek.


MacLeod House said...

I never realised that about the word "Prodigal" before either, I also always assumed it meant "One that messed up, and then came back and mended his ways" - thanks for the info. I also didn't know it was written from the viewpoint of the brother...hmmm. Vewy intewesting.

allie. said...

Hi Ness - Glad to know you were another one who thought that :-)
Just to say this: the whole story is not written from the view point of the older brother.
It is something he said to his father about the younger brother:
"But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him."

Incidentally, the younger son spent his own money - not his father's.
Just another bitter little dig he took at his father, and at his bro.

A messed guy this one. I feel so sorry for him.
There are LOTS of elder bro peeps out there today still.

Lynette said...

According to Jewish custom if the father died his oldest would inherit two thirds and the younger a third. When the younger son wanted his inheritance his father would have had to sell of some of his property or livestock in order to give his son this third. The son also asking for this inadvertently said "Dad you are dead to me...give me my inheritance." Sad actually!

This was the subject of the sermon in our church last night. Showing the amazing grace and love of the father (God) towards his undeserving children (us). Even if we mess up real bad we only need to take one step towards Him and He opens His arms wide and takes us back.


1986 CR Swart Matrieks said...

Funny enough Allie - I have always thought of the parable as you note here. Maybe the Afrikaans translation just deals better with it.

cat said...

Sorry, that was me in another profile

allie. said...

@ Lynette - yes I have heard that teaching too. I think that is the traditional way of looking at the story.
And I'm not saying its wrong - just suggesting possible other scenarios
@ Cat - I LOVE the Afrikaans bible! It puts things simply and clearly. I often get DH to read his and we compare the two.
So interesting that it makes this view so clear.